Conquer the Clutter

Last week I had a bit of a slump in motivation and after posting about it on Instagram the always lovely The Home of Eve suggested a podcast called Vibrant Happy Women with Jen Riday. Oh my goodness it could not have been more perfect for me that week. The episode I downloaded was 114: How to See Through the Mess and Declutter Your Life with Tracy McCubbin. It got me thinking about clutter. Whether it’s toys on the floor, the books stacked next to the overflowing bookcase or paperwork piles on every work surface, why is the clutter in my home bothering me so much?

Why Does Clutter Affect Us?

It’s a well-established theory that clutter chaos in our home contributes to a feeling of lack of control in our lives . Gretchen Rubin calls it ‘Outer order, inner calm‘. Researchers have found that because we closely link our identity to our homes, the extent of the clutter can impact on how much enjoyment we get from being in that space. Interestingly the ‘home’ is not just the physical building we live in, but beyond that to the overall life we lead. So even if your physical home is well organised, perhaps you feel mentally cluttered from keeping track of all the kids’ school activities, after-school clubs, playdates, personal goals etc.

How Does Clutter Affect Us?

According to Houselogic, a study at UCLA found that clutter has a “profound affect on our mood and self-esteem“. They found a link between high stress levels and high quantities of items in a home. In essence, the more stuff we have, the more stress we feel. Perhaps unsurprisingly, researchers found it affected women to a greater degree than men. I’m sure I’m not alone in having a husband who shrugs his shoulders in confusion at my clutter-fuelled meltdowns! We women apparently also associate an organised home with an indication of how happy or successful our family is. Obviously this is not true for every woman but perhaps this is why an impending guest invasion can send me into a tailspin. I’d be interested to know if this association between tidiness and happiness only applies to our own homes though. Clutter is someone else’s house doesn’t bother me in the slightest. If anything, it makes me identify with them a little more – we’re kindred spirits!

Why Do We Hang on to Clutter?

So if clutter really has such a detrimental affect on our mood and stress, why is it so hard to fix? Be Brain Fit lists some of the reasons we hang on to clutter:

  • Advertising – we are constantly bombarded by marketing telling us how ‘stuff’ is going to make us happier, healthier, more attractive and more successful.
  • Emotional baggage – getting rid of things can be an admission of failure. Perhaps it’s the clothes that ‘might’ fit one day or the hobbies that we ‘might’ get around to. I know I have a full collection of acrylic paints that I naively purchased before maternity leave with my eldest. ‘To keep me busy while he sleeps’ … he never slept, I never painted.
  • Regret – what if we throw something away and regret it later? We keep things ‘just in case’ we find a use for it. I am a great hoarder of odd bits of wood, screws and fixings. If you’re ever in need of an obscure Ikea fitting, I probably have it. I won’t be able to find it. But I’ll have it.

Gretchen Rubin suggest a few more reasons why decluttering is so hard:

  • I need to find the perfect recipient for everything I’m getting rid of” – we feel guilty about throwing away things that still have a use so we try to find them a good home. I have an attic full of baby stuff that I NEED to Ebay. If anyone has any tips please share, I’m an Ebay virgin and I’m not even sure where to start.
  • I need to keep this as a memento of a happy time” – Gretchen suggests that “mementos work best when they are carefully chosen – and when they don’t take up much room!’. We all know the extent of mums’ hoarding of every picture, collage, school project that our offspring has ever created. I’m sure the world is full of perplexed 18 year olds being handed their lifelong collection of artwork, only to deposit it in the bin on the way home.

How to Conquer the Clutter

I’ve decided I need to see some quick wins if I’m going to motivate myself to truly conquer the problem once and for all, so I need a plan.

There are many schools of thought for how to conquer the clutter chaos, from the decluttering marathons favoured by Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up to the more piecemeal approach suggested by Tracy in the Vibrant Happy Women podcast. However they all agree on one thing, the need to plan. Or as Tracy describes it beautifully: “Plan your work and work your plan”. So for this challenge I’m following Tracy’s strategy:

Step 1: Create a vision for how you want your home to work and run.

I’m never going to be a true minimalist but I have lots of meaningful, beautiful things in my home that are hidden or obscured by the meaningless tat. I love beautiful interiors (put your hand up if you’ve got stacks of Home Beautiful and Ideal Homes magazines hidden away for future inspiration) and I want my home to reflect my style. However it also needs to be functional. Tracy emphasises that while it’s nice for our homes to be beautiful, it HAS to work. Put things in the place where they’re needed and used.

Step 2: Identify the logjams

For each person this will be different but what are the persistent offenders in our household? Like a lot of people, paperwork is top of my list. Followed closely by books, books everywhere. On the bookcases, next to beds, UNDER beds, on tables … urgh. The next logjam is toys. It’s an eternal problem for all parents but I’m pretty sure we could half the amount of toys we own and better organise the rest. The kids would be none the wiser and could actually see what they have to play with. Lastly I think the clutter in my head is definitely something I need to work on. I’ve recently started bullet journalling and I’m hopeful that it will be a really beneficial tool to help me get back on track. However I need to dedicate some proper time to getting all the clutter out of my head and onto the paper.

Step 3: Let’s Get Started!

Are you fed up by your clutter mountain too? Is the amount of stuff in your home affecting your mood? Let me know in the comments below your thoughts on clutter and how to deal with it. 


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